The fourth-century cataloguer of heresies, Epiphanius of Salamis, is not always either clear or reliable, but he supplies many hints for us to take up and use as best we can in reconstructing early Christian history and belief. He tells us at least a bit more about the intriguing sect of the Nicolaitans which so upset the writer of the Revelation of John, who called their doctrines hateful. They encouraged a faithful defiance of cultic superstition, claiming the right to eat meat previously dedicated to idols. Since pagan gods are zeroes, they reasoned, why consider their left-over sacrifices any more than a treat? The same reasoning is examined in 1 Corinthians 8:1-6ff. It smacks of Gnosticism, and Epiphanius treats Nicolaitanism as such. There was also some type of unchasity involved (Revelation 3:20), which Epiphanius chalked up to Gnostic libertinism. But since the writer of Revelation guarantees salvation only to the celibate, and males at that (14:4), it need not have taken much in the way of sexual activity for him to have started fulminating about fornication. It never took much to get the Dead Sea Scroll ascetics going! It is interesting that the Revelator says he had for some time tolerated Jezebel (3:21), apparently as a colleague, though he finally decided she had no intention of coming around to his point of view. This fact mitigates the impression of some absolute gulf between the two positions. This may prove to be a fact of some importance.
Epiphanius tells us, if I read him right, that the Nicolaitans treasured two kindred scriptures, a Gospel of Eve and a Gospel of Perfection. He gives us a glimpse of the former: “I stood upon a high mountain and saw a tall man and another one, short, and I heard something like the sound of thunder. And I approached to hear. And he spoke to me, saying: ‘I am you, and you are I, and wherever you are, there am I, and I am scattered about in everything. And from wherever you wish, you gather me, but in gathering me, you but gather yourself'” (Panarion 26:2:5-26:3:3). I believe that the other text, the Nicolaitan Gospel of Perfection, was rediscovered in 1945 among the Nag Hammadi collection as Thunder: Perfect Mind. It fits Epiphanius’ description of that gospel as a “seductive poem.” As Bentley Layton has pointed out, Thunder: Perfect Mind has in common with Epiphanius’ note on the Gospel of Perfection the implication that the text came by way of revelation conveyed by a voice of thunder. Like the Gospel of Eve, Thunder: Perfect Mind seems to present itself as a self-declaration from the lips of Eve, who reflects on the paradoxes of her twin existence as the heavenly Power Eve who animated the inert Adam and as the earthly substitute she created to throw the lustful Archons of Eden off her trail when they wanted to rape her–and did rape her counterpart. In this we can see that the double Eve was another version of the heavenly Wisdom Sophia and her fallen counterpart Achamoth. She is also one with Isis, to whose votive stelae in Egypt, engraved with her self-praising aretalogies, Thunder: Perfect Mind makes explicit reference. Here we have the key to solving the riddle of the text: how the speaker can be honored (heavenly Eve) and despised (fallen Eve); virgin (heavenly Eve) and wife (earthly Eve); harlot (fallen Eve) and consecrated (heavenly Eve); childless (divine Eve) and yet the mother of many (earthly Eve), etc.
My proposal is that we have another reference to Thunder: Perfect Mind (or the Gospel of Perfection) in Revelation 10:1-4. A giant angel stands like the Colossus of Rhodes astride land and sea. He roars like a lion, and seven thunderous voices answer him with some articulate revelation, as the narrator begins to transcribe it. When he is finished, the angel directs him, not to destroy it (neither had he told him not to write it down in the first place!), but to seal it up, just as Daniel (12:9-10) had once been instructed by an angel to seal up his prophecy till the generation for whose sake it was written should appear. It would not make sense to anyone till then, and then only to the wise. In light of this, we must assume there was some sort of apocalypse of the seven thunders in circulation, and that the writer of Revelation was concerned that readers, especially the Nicolaitans, were drawing dangerous inferences from it (a la 2 Peter 3:15-16). Thus he wants to shut the book and withdraw it from circulation! That book was Thunder: Perfect Mind.
The “perfection” element is reflected in the number seven assigned to the thunders. We might picture “Jezebel” (whose secret identity has been guessed as Simon Magus’ partner Helena, or Lydia of Thyatira from Acts 16, or Mary Magdalene) as assuming the persona of the Wisdom-Eve figure when reading from the text in worship, chanting strange words about being a virgin and a whore, etc., none of which would have sounded very good to the writer of Revelation. If not blasphemous, then at least not for the ears of weaker brethren, and so he tries to “seal up” the book, which he, significantly, does not blast as a false prophecy. The brethren of the Monastery of Saint Pachomius, the ones who buried the Nag Hammadi codices, knew they had to seal up the revelation of the seven thunders, too, lest it be lost forever to the pyres of ecclesiastical inquisitors, and they did. Now it is time, at last, to unseal Thunder: Perfect Mind and restore it to the place it might have had long ago, in the New Testament canon.
My hypothetical restorations of missing text from our fragmentary manuscript are printed in italics. Standard scholarly plug-ins for brief holes in the text are reproduced here in brackets.
Thunder: Perfect Mind
1:1 I was sent out from [the] Power,
and I have come to the aid of those who meditate upon me,
and I can be found in the company of those who search earnestly for me.
2 Look upon me, all you who meditate upon me!
And you who hear, listen to me!
You who await me, embrace me now!
3 Do not put me away from before your eyes,
nor make your speech my enemy, or foreign to your hearing.
4 Never and nowhere let yourselves be ignorant of me.
Be vigilant, so you do not lapse into ignorance!
2:1 For I am the First and the Last.
I am the one who is both honored and despised.
2 I am the harlot and the consecrated.
I am the wife and the virgin.
3 I am the mother and the daughter.
I am the body of my mother.
4 I am the barren one,
yet many are my sons.
5 I am she whose wedding is grand,
yet I have taken no husband to me.
6 I am the midwife and she who bears no young.
I comfort myself in my labor pains.
7 I am both bride and bridegroom.
My husband has fathered me.
8 I am the mother of my father,
and the sister of my husband, who is my son.
9 I am the slave of him who trained me.
I am the ruler of my children.
10 But he is the one who [fathered me],
before the due-date, on a birthday.
11 And he is my own offspring [at] the proper time,
and my power comes from him.
12 I am the sceptre of his power in his youth,
[And] he is the cane of my old age.
And everything befalls me according as he wills it.
13 I am the silence that is impenetrable
and the Epinoia, the idea to which the mind is drawn ever and again.
14 I am the voice of clashing echoes
and the word appearing under many forms.
I am the simple utterance of my name.
3:1 You who hate me, why do you love me
yet hate those who love me?
2 You who deny me actually confess me,
while you who think to confess me deny.
3 You who tell the truth of me are lying concerning me.
And you who speak lies have told the truth of me.
4 You who know me–forget me!
And those who are ignorant of me, come learn of me!
5 For I am knowledge and unknowing.
I am cringing and boldness.
6 I am shameless and ashamed.
I am strength and I am fear.
7 I am both war and peace.
Heed my words!
8 I who am both disgraced and esteemed most highly.
9 Take note of my poverty and my wealth.
Be not haughty to me when I am fallen in the gutter,
[and] you will find me among [those whose] turn is coming.
10 Nor despise me [on] the dung-heap,
or walk away without lifting me up,
and you will see me again sitting enthroned.
11 Let your gaze not linger upon me, expelled with the disgraced
to the lowest places, nor make sport of me there.
And do not fling me forth on the heap of murdered corpses.
12 But as for me, I am compassionate and I am cruel.
Do not resent my service
but cherish the temperance I require.
14 When I am weak, abandon me not,
nor neglect to fear my power!
15 For why will you hate the fear of me
and curse my boastful pride?
16 But I am she who lies concealed in every fear,
the strength that fortifies him who trembles.
17 I am she who is weak,
and I am sleek and favorably situated.
18 I am oblivious and I am wise.
4:1 Why do your reasonings shun me?
For I shall say nothing to those who care not to invoke me,
and I shall appear and have my say.
2 So why have you hated me, you Greeks?
Because I am as a barbarian when with [the] barbarians?
3 Verily, I am the wisdom [of the] Greeks
and equally the knowledge of [the] barbarians.
4 I am the wise judgment of both Greeks and barbarians.
[I] am the one whose image is ubiquitous among the Egyptians,
and who has no image among the ignorant barbarians.
5 I am the one who is everywhere despised
and who has been beloved everywhere.
6 I am the one whom they call Life,
but whom you have called Death.
7 I am the one whom they call Law,
but you call Lawlessness!
8 I am the one you have pursued,
the very one you seized and held.
9 I am the seed you scattered,
and you have gathered my fruit together.
10 I am the one before whose gaze you shrank,
yet you have been brazen to me.
11 I am she who does not keep festival,
yet I am always the belle of the ball.
12 I, even I, am godless,
and I am the one whose God is great.
13 I am the one who mirrors your reflection,
and you have shunned me.
14 I am untrained,
yet they apply to me for wisdom.
15 I am the one you always hated,
and yet you are obsessed with me.
16 I am the one from whom you have concealed yourself,
yet I see you plain as day.
17 But whenever you may hide yourselves,
I myself come into view.
18 But [whenever] you [appear],
I am [no longer visible].
19 Those who have sworn fealty to it
senselessly fail to heed it at all.
5:1 Take me as salvaging [understanding] from sorrow,
and embrace my lesson from understanding [and] grief.
2 Learn from me in places desolate and grim,
and take freely what they know who are good while mired in ugliness.
3 In a shameless plight shamelessly take me for your own
and, freed from shamelessness and shame alike,
reproach my limbs as you recognize them in yourselves.
4 Do not hold back, but come to me, you who know me
and you who know me intimately.
5 And plant the great ones among the young, small creatures.
Come, advance to childhood,
and do not disdain it because it is small and diminutive.
6 And do not turn away unwittingly from the greatness
concealed here and there in insignificant things,
for the tiny things are known in comparison to the great.
7 Why do you both curse me and honor me?
You have injured and have shown mercy.
8 Do not separate me from those you [knew] most anciently.
[And] do not expel anyone [or] refuse anyone shelter,
so that others will not refuse you and say, “I don’t [know] him.”
9 For when you cast them out, you cast me out.
What is mine is theirs, and theirs is mine.
10 I was with the [first intelligences],
and all from that time on [knew] me.
11 But I am the mind of the perfect and the rest of the soul.
I am the very knowledge after which I inquire,
12 and the success of those who search me out
and the mandate of those who ask about me,
13 and knowledge of me is the power of the Powers,
of the angels who have been dispatched at my command,
14 and of gods, each in his time, as I deem best,
and of the spirit of every man who abides with me
and of each woman who dwells in my house.
15 I am the one who is esteemed and praised,
and I am most scornfully despised.
16 I am peace
and war has come in my wake.
17 And I am a foreigner and a citizen.
I am wealth itself and the destitute urchin.
18 Those not keeping company with me are ignorant of me.
Those who share my substance, they it is who know me.
19 Those close beside me are in fact ignorant of me,
and those now far removed from me are they who once knew me.
20 Whenever I am close to [you],
you are far distant [from me],
21 and whenever I [am far] from you,
[I am by] your side.
6:1 [I am] your nature within.
[I am] the nature of the natures.
2 I am the beginning of the creation of the [spirits],
the reply to the]request of the souls.
3 I am the hand that controls and the uncontrollable.
I am both uniting and dividing.
4 I am the enduring as well as the dissolving.
I am that below, to which they rise up.
5 I am both condemnation and justification.
I, even I, am without sin,
and the very root of sin stems from me.
6 I am by appearance raging lust,
but the eye of my storm is self-control.
7 I am the ear by which all hear
and that utterance which none can grasp.
8 I am a mute who never speaks,
and endless is the flood of my words!
9 Hear me in serenity,
but learn my truth only amid trouble.
10 I am she who shouts aloud her invitation,
and I am hurled ignominiously to the ground.
11 I make ready the feast, even my mind within.
I am the very knowledge of my name.
12 I am the one who calls out,
and I listen quietly.
13 I appear and then I walk in your streets bearing the seal of my God.
I am the refuge and the defense of the humble.
14 I am the one called Truth,
and iniquity is a stranger to me.
15 You honor me openly,
and you whisper against me.
16 You who are defeated, judge them who defeated you
before they pronounce sentence upon you!
17 For judgment and partiality are found within you.
18 If you are condemned by this one,
who is left to acquit you?
19 Or if you are acquitted by him,
who is left to condemn you?***
20 For what is inside you is what is outside you,
and he who fashions you on the outside is the same as
the one who shaped the inside of you.*
21 So whatever you see outside you,
you see inside you.
22 It is visible to all
and clothes you like a garment.
7:1 Hear me well, you listeners!
Learn my words, you who know me!
2 I am the common hearing of the ear,
and I am the impenetrable riddle.
3 I am the name of the sound
and the sound of the name.
4 I am the shape of the letter
and the name assigned to the category.
5 And I am the sacred text
as well as the light shining upon the page.
6 Heed me, my hearers, for I speak to you of the Great Power.
And my tongue will not move the name.
7 I give glory to the one who created me.
And I will utter his name.
8 Then study his words
and every Scripture that has been completed.
9 Listen closely, then, you who hear me,
and you, too, all angels and apostles,
and you spirits who have risen from the dead.
10 For I am the One who alone exists,
and there is no one else to judge me!
11 For sin lies in wait in many pleasing forms,
along with profligacies
and degrading lusts
and ephemeral delights
which people embrace in their drunkenness
until they slink off to sober up.
12 And in that hour they will find me, and they will live,
never to die again.****
** A more contemporary translation: “I am onomatopoeia and I am Om”
***Romans 8:33-34; 1 John 3:19-21; 2 Corinthians 2:2
****Gospel of Thomas 28
Introduction and translation kindly offered by Robert M. Price from The Pre-Nicene New Testament: Fifty-four Formative Texts.
More translations by Robert M. Price:
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